To do my best work as a leader, I believe I must be in optimal condition mentally, emotionally, physically, spiritually, and energetically. But in a culture that puts “productivity” above any form of care, this is a difficult concept to embrace.
As I continue to contemplate the importance of self-care in leadership, I have learned paying attention to my energy and responding appropriately helps me bring my gifts to others with grace and humility. People seem to notice my authenticity and are longing for it for themselves and their teams.
Recognize energy is the centerpiece
Recently, I attended a LinkedIn News session on career searching and mental health. Speaker Nii Ato Bentsi-Enchill MA, Ed.M explained: “The way that mental health impacts us is that it shapes how we are going to appear, the energy that we give off, and the way we are able to connect and convey ourselves to the audience that we’re facing at that time.” For example, as hard as we might work to cover up imposter syndrome, our body will give off the vibe.
Imposter syndrome might show up in language like apologizing before commenting or saying, “I’m not sure, but I’m thinking….”. In the same way, overconfidence or energy of righteousness will be sensed too. I’ve found I can achieve the best traction with the right energetic mix of strength and humility. I often tell participants that I don’t pretend to have a silver bullet (humility), but what I am teaching is what has worked for me (strength). Centering this type of energy has served me both professionally and personally, as I have been able to have richer conversations and form stronger connections with people around me.
Understand trauma’s effects
My energy changed because I chose to process past trauma. From that experience, I more clearly see how trauma – individual, generational, and cultural – shows up everywhere. I also see trauma being created from the pandemic.
I have learned that it isn’t only the traumatic event that causes so much harm, but also the silence, the inability or unavailability of others to help process such events. Good leaders need to know what trauma is and how it shows up because we will encounter it, in ourselves, our communities, and our organizations. Leaders need to understand the effects of trauma to recognize and possibly convert the negative energy trauma carries into a more positive state.
After I processed my own childhood trauma several years ago, I developed a more open heart toward myself and others. Now, I am more connected to my true self, and people notice the change in energy I emit.
Leave space for triggers
In an online meeting earlier this week, a participant noted that she had been triggered and was unable to respond to the question at hand. I noticed that no one acknowledged this comment during our session, so later that day, I reached out to ask if she was okay. I learned that, in addition to some of what she shared in the meeting, she was dealing with the recent death of a friend.
Triggered responses are often trauma responses. As I continue to learn how to help process these triggers, I believe the “processing” is a moving of energy from negative to positive that helps both the triggered and the person rendering aid.
I begin just by asking if the person is okay. I don’t, and should not assume I do, know what has triggered the person. If someone says they’ve been triggered, I don’t push them, at the moment, to explain. Instead, I give them space to settle their minds and bodies and let them know my intentions for checking in. My goal is to normalize triggers, the emotions that result from them and to never dismiss someone’s experience. I have noticed that acknowledging the trigger, the story, and the experience is a great way to improve relationship energy.
When is the last time you examined your triggers? What about talking about triggers and how they show up on your team? How can you leave space for triggers and work to resolve them?
Protect energy for growth
I am currently doing significant work in Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Justice (DEIJ) which can be very trauma triggering. As a part of my continued learning, I decided to reach out to a therapist to talk about some recent work-related trauma. While I am generally doing well, I knew that I had some processing to do which could help me in my DEIJ work. My realization this time is that I am angrier at the people that were present to the trauma and remained quiet bystanders. I felt like they were either ignorantly blind or simply avoidant. People who were supposed to be my friends or supporters were absent in stepping up when I needed them most.
I must process this “blindness” part more so that I, too, can see and speak to trauma in action. I must have compassion because this exercise has made me realize times when I have been ignorantly blind or just not willing to fully uncover the truth. I know this processing will, once again, open more space for love and compassion. In doing so, I will once again have more energy to help others process through various trauma as well as the compassionate energy to call it out in action.
Energy for work and life
Recently, I met a woman in the Global Regenerative CoLab, and we’ve been talking about some potential projects together. She has also been participating in a workshop series on Human-Nature connection that I’ve been offering. The producer of the series noted the amazing chemistry between us that she couldn’t name, which validated the feelings my future partner and I have both expressed about how much our energies align.
This makes me think of Thomas Hubl’s recent book, Healing Collective Trauma. He says relation is “I feel you feeling me.” When we can bring our best energy into the spaces we occupy, then we can develop full relationships that mutually feed both work and life.
How does your energy show up in your relationships and with your team? Is the general energy of the team draining or motivational? If you can’t tell, you have learning to do.
As COVID numbers rise again in the United States, I believe we should be prepared for a second lockdown. As a facilitator of self-care and team care workshops, I’ve heard and seen firsthand how traumatic the lockdown was for people and how insufficient leadership was in handling it humanely. I believe that companies and organizations that create brave spaces to talk about the effects of the pandemic without judgment, and about DEIJ experiences with curiosity and humility, will come through this with higher overall energy and innovation. We need everyone to be their best selves. That means self-care, self-awareness practices, and personal growth need to be a mandatory part of moving forward.
If you are interested in digging into self-care and team wellness so that you and your staff can come to work with their full energies, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Written by Michelle Doerr